A not-endorsement

This has been the first time that I’ve followed an election—really followed an election—from start to finish having looked closely at all the candidates.

This isn’t an endorsement, just my conclusions from all the time I spent thinking about it.

Initially, I was sympathetic toward Kerry Diotte. The arena deal is awful, and he was the only one of the three councillors running to vote against it. I never liked the idea of a new arena personally. In the ten years I’ve been in Edmonton I’ve only gone to Rexall about five times—never for sports—and while I enjoyed those times, wouldn’t have lost any sleep over missing any of the events I did see. Sure, the arena seems a bit on the old side, but it’s perfectly functional.

As things went on, I liked Daryl Katz a lot less. Especially when words were floating around about losing the Oilers.

Oh noes!

Sure, take them away, were my thoughts. Go find another city willing to pour money into building a playground for millionaire athletes to play for their billionaire owners. It’s not like they’re good at winning, anyway.

The arena will make Katz richer at the expense of the rest of us. It will take longer than we’re expecting, it will cost more than we’re expecting, and it won’t—alone, anyway—revitalize downtown.

I bring this up because it is actually relevant. This is one of the biggest decisions our city has made, and while yes, it’s a “done deal,” no, I won’t “shut up about it.” It’s relevant because it offers insight into the decision-making of the three frontrunning candidates.

Ultimately, though, I didn’t find much else about Diotte that elevated him beyond the other two. Materials on his website with regards to policy were lacking compared to Leibovici and Iveson, so it’s hard to know much about him besides potholes suck and the arena sucks. Yeah, he’s said more at forums and such, but I’ll get to how they all basically said the same thing anyway later.

When it comes to Leibovici, I’m just not moved. I don’t know how many times now that I’ve heard “I’m a doer,” for one. Thirty seven, maybe. I’ve also heard a lot about how she’s got so much experience and great leadership skills. And how important it will be to have someone who’s been around for the time that she has with a council with plenty of fresh faces.

But then maybe that’s the problem, here. On a council with a lot of fresh faces, she’s been around for Mandel’s entire tenure as mayor—and three years before that. Yeah, she can navigate the system and has done a lot, but Diotte and Iveson have both had one and two terms respectively for one and will hardly be lost, and new faces might not want to listen to the old ones.

And besides, I tend to find that anyone who emphasizes their leadership skills isn’t much of a leader. Good leaders don’t need to convince people that they’re good leaders.

Like Don Iveson. He’s calm, collected, on-point, has an answer for everything and has ran an impressively positive campaign. He sounds like a leader.

He also has a huge volume of policy material available. If it’s a topic related to the city, there’s probably something on his website.

It’s been kind of weird, personally, actually. This is going to be insidey few paragraphs, but I happen to know a lot about The Gateway, having worked there (and still working there). As the first Business Manager at the paper, Iveson basically helped establish it as an autonomous organization following its split away from the Students’ Union. And while yes, it’s a student newspaper, it’s not “just” a student newspaper. It’s has the highest budget of any student newspaper in Canada, and while it primarily serves a community of 30,000 undergrads, there are also 7,600 grad students, 3,600 academic staff and 11,700 administrative staff. All together, then, that’s a community of 50,000 people, and that’s not counting our web traffic.

Yeah, it’s not the biggest non-profit in the country, but there are plenty of “real” newspapers in small towns and cities with smaller readerships. So it’s a pet peeve of mine when people like Leibovici downplay people like Iveson’s work at The Gateway by describing his experience as “employee at a student newspaper,” because nobody would ever try that if he’d, for example, been the publisher of the St. Albert Gazette ten years ago.

It was also incredibly frustrating to see Diotte describe an article Iveson wrote for The Gateway, way back in the day, as “concerning.” It was most clearly a tongue-in-cheek non-serious article that promoted slacking off as a communist protest of capitalism.

It was frustrating because during my tenure as a writer for The Gateway, I wrote such articles as Man, nothing’s better than my huge ass truck, The rapture’s coming this time, one way or another, and that one about unicorn penises that is currently not online due to unrelated hosting issues. I didn’t write those because I truly believe that anyone who owns a huge truck is a douchebag, because I think we should kidnap old men and trick them into thinking they’re in heaven, or because I want to have sex with unicorns. I wrote them to give students freaking out over their midterms a smile or two.

God forbid Don Iveson have a sense of humour.

All that aside, there was one major sticking point I had with Iveson, and that’s his arena vote. Not just that he voted for the deal, but also his rationale coming down to a “gut feeling” and because we weren’t going to get a better deal. I wouldn’t buy rotten oranges because nobody will sell me good ones—I’d just go without oranges. It’s not like an apple isn’t a healthy substitute at a comparable price.

The other thing I noticed is that while Iveson, as I said, has a lot of information available, a lot of what he says kind of amounts to “we can have this exciting thing!—while also taking care of all the necessary boring stuff.” But I can’t bring myself to buy it. It’s not often we can have a ton of nice things as well as the boring but necessary things. It all rings a little too good to be true.

Diotte’s said plainly that potholes aren’t sexy. And no, sir, they are not. But they’re everywhere, and so far as I can tell, infrastructure really has been neglected. And so wouldn’t we want someone who didn’t vote for The Daryl Katz Money Extractor and who is focusing on infrastructure as opposed to—rather than in addition to—a Vision?

Maybe. If nothing else, describing Diotte’s approach as “backwards thinking” is really not fair to what he wants.

But you know, the truth is, all three of the front runners would do a fine job. They’d have different approaches, for sure, but they’re only one vote on council when it comes down to it. Perhaps Leibovici and Iveson would be better at getting councillors on their sides—but I really don’t know that the job of a mayor should necessarily to be to whip the councillors into line, being that the councillors were elected based upon what they told the voters about what they think about things. Perhaps Leibovici’s four terms of experience really would give her a killer edge, though. But then perhaps Iveson’s depth of knowledge really would pan out. And perhaps Diotte’s insistence that we focus on fixing the roads would actually turn out to be the most critical, but unsexy, move the city makes.

I don’t know, but what I do know is that the main three are also actually painfully similar in many ways. They all love the LRT. They all love the arts. They all love small businesses, homeowners, old people—the usual. Depending on the circumstances, they’re all cautiously okay with Public-Private Partnerships. On issues like urban sprawl, they’re all hard to really pin down. I could go on.

The point here is, from months of watching these guys vie for the position, I really, honestly, truly believe that they’d all be good at it, even if some of the campaign rhetoric from Leibovici and Diotte has annoyed me.

And that’s another thing I like about Iveson. He’s been pretty good at sticking to why he should be the mayor, as opposed to why the others shouldn’t. When you put yourself forward as the only option, as Diotte and Leibovici has, my immediate reaction is “probably not, actually” and then I go out to see if I’m right.

I usually am.

Leibovici failed to convince me she’s necessary above the others. Diotte failed to impress me beyond the arena. And every time a jab was made at Iveson’s “lack of experience” or age, it made me like those candidates less and like Iveson more.

He’s been elected as councillor twice already, for fuck’s sakes. Every time you imply that Iveson isn’t qualified for the job, you’re essentially calling everyone who already voted for him an idiot. And more, it’s insulting to anyone around or under his age. You wonder why young people don’t vote? Maybe it’s because whenever anyone “young” enters politics, they’re derided as too young. This is happening to Justin Trudeau on the federal stage, despite that if the Liberals win in 2015, he’d be only a few years younger than when Harper took Prime Ministership. First, 41 is not young, and second, if 41 really truly is too young, change the law, because according to it, you’re good once you’re 18.

Despite the arena and feeling like his promises are too good to be true, I have a gut feeling that Iveson would be the best for the job—but I don’t vote based on gut feelings. After a lot of thought, the arena deal made me not vote for him. No, I don’t have to like absolutely everything about a candidate in order to vote for them, but I’m allowed to have deal-breakers. I’d like to see Iveson as mayor, but I can’t vote for him without tacitly approving of his decision on something I’m vehemently opposed to.

There are three other candidates. Kristine Acielo, however, has absolutely no business being in this election. She is willfully ignorant at best. Gordon Ward, on the other hand, is your average run-of-the-mill “run the government like a business” guy. Unfortunately, that approach doesn’t work for the simple reason that the government is not a business. Its sole purpose is not to create profit for the owners, but to serve each and every citizen. Besides, it’s so hard to extend the analogy beyond a buzzphrase it’s not even worth trying. Are the citizens the employees, or the customers? Or the owners? Who are we making a profit for? What business sends its profits back to the customers? If we all own the business, who are the customers? Snore.

So you know what? I voted for Josh Semotiuk. Besides the fact that I just love me a plucky underdog, there are two reasons.

First, he says he’s running because he didn’t like the options. I want to support this.

Two, I’d really like for him to get his campaign deposit back. You need to get half the votes the winner did for this to happen, and with three former councillors in the race, Semotiuk might well get fourth place, but it’s not hard to tell where most of the votes are going.

But no. I like Semotiuk. He’s been honest, direct, admitted when he doesn’t know things, and hasn’t accepted campaign donations. I always told myself that if I ever met a politician that embraced those principles, I’d vote for them. So I did.

Yes, the mayor has to make important decisions, but you know what? The mayor has one vote, and we’re giving at least six of the other votes to people without council experience anyhow. There’s going to be a lot of learning done on our new council, but they have each other, city staff, and the people of the city to advise them. And from how he’s presented himself, I feel that Semotiuk would have the judgement to follow the right advice.

Of course, the mayor’s effectively the face of the city, so are we going to let some bearded nobody go to important meetings with the feds and the province dressed like he’s going to a metal show?

Yeah. If more of the Important People at these Important Meetings didn’t take themselves so seriously, maybe democracy would work a whole lot better. There are a lot of different types of people in this city (and this country), and 29-year-old electrician with a beard and a Motorhead shirt has as much right to be the face as a former journalist or a social worker turned career politician or a businessman or a former student advocate. Counting Semotiuk out because he won’t slick-up and wear a suit stinks of classism.

If I could vote preferentially, it’d be Semotiuk, NOTA, Iveson, Diotte, Leibovici. This is because I want Semotiuk, and while I certainly have a preference, though slight, between the other candidates, and prefer them to Ward and Acielo, I’d want to put a NOTA protest vote between them and my real preference.

Any election that uses first past the post rather than at least some form of preferential balloting really saddens me. I often don’t like the main options, but still have a preference between them, and it feels like I’m throwing my vote away when I vote based on my real beliefs. I “voted strategically” in the last federal election for the NDP candidate in Edmonton-Centre when I could have voted for the Pirate Party guy who actually lined up better with my beliefs.

The Conservative candidate won, and I felt like I cheated myself. So I’m not doing that again.

I can’t vote preferentially, so it’s just Semotiuk. But as long as Ward and Acielo lose, as they will, the city will be in good hands.


  1. Ian says:

    Welcome back to blogging. Well thought out and I can’t say I disagree. Were I still in Edmonton, I’d probably have voted Iveson as the arena deal isn’t quite a deal-breaker for me (although I agree it’s a waste).

  2. Loved this piece! I struggled with the arena deal as well… But now that its happening I want to create the best possible outcome. I am supporting Don, have already voted for him and am volunteering with the hopes that we will get the vote out for him on Monday.

    I do like Josh Semotiuk. I really hope that he runs in the next election. I think he’s a great asset to Edmonton and I think there are great things to come from him. :)

  3. Ryan says:

    Love this.

    Strategic voting has always left a bad taste in my mouth and I really appreciate the way you reasoned this out. The last month I’ve come around to really wanting to vote for Josh but I still have this mindset that something horrible will happen if Diotte or Leibovici win, but I think you’re right about any of the main three being able to do a fine job with the mayorship.

    Last-minute vote change here I come.

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